Kigali city commuters could soon have Wi-Fi connectivity running smoothly again when Korea Telecom Networks Rwanda (KTRN) gets rights to vend the service directly to bus operators.
Senior engineer in charge of ICT infrastructure development at the Ministry of Youth and ICT Emmanuel Dusenge said an agreement and exclusive contract had been finalised to allow KTRN work directly with the bus operators, until such time when the service is stable enough to be delegated to retailers.
Launched one and half years ago, the service has been largely unavailable over the past nine months due to frequent technical hitches and hardware problems. This, despite commuters continuing to fork out close to Rwf70 million ($83,000) collected monthly as an add-on to fares.
A spot check by Rwanda Today found that Wi-Fi connectivity is inoperative or non-existent on the bulk of the city’s commuter fleet.
Sources familiar with the project told this newspaper that the system failed because the routers deployed were not designed for the rigorous environment (heat, dust and vibrations) in which the buses operate, leading to high failure rates.
“The routers deployed were meant for office or domestic operations,” said a source familiar with the challenges the project is facing.
Besides, operators, mainly drivers reportedly mishandled, disconnected or damaged the devices.
The situation has not changed since last September when KTRN suspended the service retailer, Telecom Network Solution Provider Ltd (TNSP), over poor quality services.
However the statutory fees each passenger pays for the service have not been suspended meaning that as the system vendors continue to make money, passengers are not getting any corresponding value.
“What is happening is outright theft because I have never found the bus’s wireless working since August last year, and I board coaster buses every day. We need the authorities to intervene,” lamented Vital Nsanzebahiga, a passenger.
Each public transport user incurs an Rwf30 charge per trip, a fee meant to maintain access to the super-fast 4G Internet while on board. The fee is paid as part of the transport fare.
Collections from the Internet surcharge alone translate into Rwf124,840 ($148) per vehicle, which translates into roughly Rwf60.8 million ($72,000) per month collected from users by the bus operators on behalf of KTRN.
The sum could however be higher if the increasing demand for public transport in the city currently standing at 450 000 people alongside fleet expansion from the initial 487 buses is factored in.
Rwanda Today found connectivity problems to be common on fleets owned by Kigali Bus Services (KBS), Rwanda Federation of Transport Cooperative (RFTC) and Royal Express, which operate different Kigali routes.
On some buses, passengers with smartphones get notification for free Wi-Fi but they cannot get to browse while a bigger section of the buses reveal no sign of wireless access.
Bus operators confirmed to Rwanda Today that Internet was available but in very few vehicles after the project implementation run into difficulties, adding that the service provider had promised to fix all the issues and ensure the service works at 100 per cent by June this year.
“It’s also a concern on our side because our customers complain. We hope that the service provider will fix the issues soon,” Royal Express managing director Nille Muneza, told Rwanda Today.
Mr. Muneza said only 20 per cent of his company buses have active Wi-Fi connectivity.
KTRN officials were reluctant to respond to our request for information for weeks. Just before we went to press however, they requested for an official letter detailing the questions to which the company would decide whether to respond or not.
The company had earlier promised to hire a new retailer to bring the service back to life and ensure customer satisfaction.
But it is understood that the process hit a snag because the suspended retailer sued at the Kigali International Arbitration Centre (KIAC), pushing back the chances for early resolution.
TNSP chief Florent Nsabimana confirmed that the company had a case against KTRN under arbitration but could not give further details.
These developments undermine the ambitions of the one-and-a-half-year-old project which is part of the Smart Kigali initiative in which government institutions like the Ministry of Youth and ICT, Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Agency (RURA) and the City of Kigali are partners.
Internet on public transport buses was hailed as a step towards enhancing the lifestyles of Kigali residents and visitors.